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The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) has officially parted ways with Patriarch of Moscow Kirill, a key ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, amid Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in what one analyst calls a ‘coup hard for Putin”.
More than 100 churches in Ukraine had rejected the UOC in favor of the kyiv-based Othodox Church Ukraine (OCU), which split from Moscow in 2019. Yet the UOC itself declared “independence total” in Moscow on Friday.
Kirill appeared to downplay the move in comments on Sunday.
“We fully understand how much the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is suffering today,” the head of the Russian Orthodox Church said at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in central Moscow. He warned that “spirits of malice” wanted to divide the Orthodox people of Russia and Ukraine, but said they would not succeed.
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Yet Rebekah Koffler, a former DIA intelligence officer and author of “Putin’s Playbook”, described the move as a “crushing blow” for Putin.
“It’s a blow to Putin,” Koffler told Fox News Digital on Sunday.
“Kirill and Putin are buddies,” she explained, noting that the Russian president “has weaponized the Russian Orthodox religion as a geopolitical tool.”
“Putin’s idea of unifying the Russian world, including Ukraine and other post-Soviet states, is based on the idea that Russia is the center of Christianity and the center of the unique Eurasian civilization that the Russians consider it exceptional, just as Americans think America is exceptional,” Koffler added. “Once the church splits, it takes the whole idea of divinity out of it.”
The analyst suggested that the newly independent UOC was unlikely to join the OCU. She predicted, however, that some UOC churches would choose to stay with Moscow, against denominational advice.
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“With Russian forces gradually but steadily establishing control over eastern and southern Ukraine – Putin’s main objective at this phase of the war – they must balance the interests of their parishioners,” Koffler explained. “Some of the priests might decide to stay with Moscow, in order to survive a possible new regime if Putin succeeds in gaining full control of Donbass and establishing the so-called ‘Novorossiya’ (the new Russia).”
Koffler attributed the split to Putin’s military strategy, which she said is to directly target civilians and civilian infrastructure in order to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to end the suffering.
“It doesn’t matter which side you are on, even if you accept Putin’s explanation for why he is doing it, you cannot, as a spiritual person, condone the killing of civilians,” she said.
“Ultimately, the split punches a hole in Putin’s narrative that Russians and Ukrainians are spiritually and ethnically one people and therefore Ukraine should not exist as a separate country,” she concluded.
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A 2018 survey found that around 67.3% of Ukraine’s population identifies with one or another stream of Orthodox Christianity, with 28.7% being part of the Kyiv-based OCU, 23 .4% simply “Orthodox” and 12.8% from the UOC. Another 7.7% of the population identify as largely Christian, while Ukrainian Byzantine Rite Catholics make up 9.4%, Protestants 2.2%, Latin Rite Catholics 0.8%, Muslims 2 .5% and Judaism 0.4%. Another 11% said they were non-religious or unaffiliated.